The Essential Kitchen: Pots and Pans II
Beyond the Basics
You can customize your kitchen with cookware that suits what and how you cook as well as how much storage space you have. Choose wisely or you'll find yourself cursing the crepe pan that's always dusty and in the way. Unlike with basic pieces that you want to last forever, there are some special pots and pans that aren't worth paying top dollar for.
- Roasting pan with rack: Buy as large as will fit in your oven, ideally about 16" x 13" x 3." Get one that you can both use in the oven and also put on top of the stove after a roast is done, and making a sauce or gravy right in the emptied pan, scraping up any remaining flavors.
Tip: some consider a roasting pan a basic but aside from a turkey, there's not much you can't just as easily cook in a 12" fry pan or a 4 quart sauté pan. For that matter you can put a flat rack on a rimmed sheet pan and cook a turkey that way. I only use my roasting pan about once a year and if I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't buy one.
- Sauce pans: 2 qt., 4 qt. 6 qt. or get an extra 3 qt.
- Stock pot: 12-16 quart with cover; this is for brining a turkey, making stocks and soups, doubles as a deep fryer, or is handy if you regularly cook large amounts of things like chili
Tip: You might choose to buy a stock pot that's lighter and less expensive because of the use to which you'll put it (lots of boiling versus lots of roasting). Plus when it's full of water it's very heavy so buy one that's light when empty.
- Wok: these come in carbon steel (it needs to be seasoned), stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick (make sure this can take high heat), and other surfaces so think about your skill and make this choice carefully
- Cast iron fry pan: 10-12" Needs to be seasoned but once it is, it's almost non-stick.
Tip: Cast iron is not good for high acid foods like tomato sauce because the acid and iron react to each other.
- Saucier: 3 qt.; as the name says, designed with slanted sides that help liquids reduce when making sauces and syrups
- Cast iron griddle/grill pan: sized to fit over 2 stove burners, it's more than twice the size of a grill pan plus it has a smooth side that works for pancakes, French toast, etc.
- Fish poacher: approx. 18" x 7" x 4" A luxury to have (and store) unless you frequently poach whole fish and then it's a basic
- Small rimmed sheet pan: 9" x 13" A handy addition to the full-sized sheet pan that's twice this size; for me, this is a basic
- Crepe pan: 7"
Tip: A crepe pan can be non-stick or carbon steel; carbon steel has to be seasoned but when it is, the pan becomes more versatile than a non-stick because it can go in a very hot oven.
- Steamer insert to fit in 3 qt. sauce pan
- Double-boiler insert to fit in 3 qt. sauce pan
- Dutch oven that can work both top of stove and in the oven, with cover: 5-8 qt. (smaller than most French ovens). This large pot is useful for soups, large amounts of high volume vegetables like spinach or kale, and braised meats and stews; made of either steel or enameled cast iron
- Paella pan: If you want an authentic flavor, Spanish cooks swear no other pan will do. But if you only make this rice dish occasionally, your 12" fry pan is a great alternative
- Loaf pan in glass or metal for meat loafs, patés, some frozen desserts, and of course, cake
- Soufflé dish: 6-8 qt. Can double as an oven-proof baking dish
- Tagine: a shallow dish with a conical glazed terracotta cover named for the traditional Moroccan slow-cooked dish. Used to make slow-braised dishes like tagines, daubes and stews.
For city cooks, beautiful cookware is an ever-tempting purchase. Before you buy, think about how often you'll use a piece and where you'll keep it. Then by all means, build your kitchen arsenal.